Jesus’ dramatic confrontation with the demonic is a persistent thread, especially in the Synoptic Gospels, that is hard to ignore. Such accounts raise all sorts of questions for us modern readers.
The shift from transfigured glory straight into spiritual warfare points to how Jesus’ ultimate vindication comes only after a ‘death and life’ struggle with forces of evil.
‘Was this a case of epilepsy, attributed by a less knowledgeable culture to demonic forces?’ In other words, we have advanced in medical knowledge and can re-interpret these stories according to our superior knowledge.? Many have read the passage this way – to me it misses the point of Jesus’ healing power over both physical and spiritual forces.
The failure of the disciples to heal the boy might have been for two reasons – their own lack of faith (Jesus is exasperated) and the particular power of the evil spirit (which could only be overcome by the prayers of Jesus himself).
The story however is all about the identity of the healer. Jesus willingly responds to the desperate, doubting, human faith of the father with his confident rhetorical question ‘If I can?’ The following confrontation is part of an increasing climax with evil in Mark. The apparent death and coming back to life of the boy foreshadowings Jesus’ fate to come – as Jesus makes explicit at the end of the account. Evil can only be defeated by the death and resurrection of the Messiah.
Reflection: Imagine yourself as one of the disciples – a sense of failure at your inability to heal and bewildered and disorientated by his talk of death and resurrection.Yet drawn again and again to the healing, restoring, mysterious, unpredictable and magnetic presence of the man from Nazareth.
The Healing of a Boy with an Evil Spirit
14When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.
16“What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.
17A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”
19“O unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”
20So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.
21Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered. 22“It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
23” ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.”
24Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
25When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
26The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.
28After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
29He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
30They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” 32But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.